Trena White—Trends in book publishing (Editors BC meeting)

Trena White, co-founder of Page Two, a full-service publishing agency specializing in nonfiction books, gave us a tour of some of the trends in trade book publishing at the March Editors BC meeting.

Subject trends, like adult colouring books, which peaked in mid-2016 or so and have since declined, or the imported Danish trend of hygge, which was particularly popular in late 2016, can be interesting but usually pass within a year or two. White wanted to focus her talk on the broader changes in the publishing landscape.

“Traditional publishing is great,” said White, in that the industry is committed to best practices in editing and design. But when White and co-founder Jesse Finkelstein launched Page Two in 2013, it was out of a recognition that traditional publishing, which tends to be technophobic and slow to react to change, doesn’t serve everyone or every book. There are legitimate reasons people might want to self-publish, and Page Two wanted to help authors and organizations publish professionally by fully embracing all things digital and being interested in changes in publishing.

White highlighted a few key trends: Continue reading “Trena White—Trends in book publishing (Editors BC meeting)”

Cookbook editing (Editors BC meeting)

October’s Editors BC meeting featured a panel on cookbook editing including

Continue reading “Cookbook editing (Editors BC meeting)”

Greg Younging—Indigenous editorial issues

Greg Younging, member of Opaskwayak Cree Nation in Northern Manitoba and publisher of Theytus Books, led an engaging, eye-opening seminar on Indigenous editorial issues for members of the Association of Book Publishers of BC (ABPBC), which invited Editors BC to join in. Younging was Assistant Director of Research for the federal government’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and is chair of the Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus of the Creator’s Rights Alliance. His seminar was a perfect balance of important historical context and practical suggestions. I’ll do my best to recap the highlights, but if you ever get the opportunity to attend this seminar or more in-depth training through the Indigenous Editors Circle (formerly Aboriginal Editors Circle), I’d highly recommend taking it. Continue reading “Greg Younging—Indigenous editorial issues”

Graphic storytelling

At this year’s Alcuin Awards ceremony, Robin McConnell, host of the Inkstuds podcast, moderated a captivating panel on graphic storytelling featuring:

  • Sarah Leavitt, author and illustrator of Tangles, her memoir about her mother, who died of Alzheimer’s disease;
  • Nick Bantock, perhaps best known for his Griffin and Sabine books, the first of which came out in 1991 and the most recent of which—the seventh in the series—was released this year; and
  • Johnnie Christmas, author and illustrator of Firebug, who recently collaborated with Margaret Atwood on the graphic novel Angel Catbird.

Continue reading “Graphic storytelling”

Herbert Rosengarten—The tyranny of the copytext: the trials and tribulations of textual editing (Editors BC meeting)

Herbert Rosengarten is a professor emeritus and former head of UBC’s English department. A textual editor and authority on the work of the Brontës, he contributed to The Oxford Companion to the Brontës and co-compiled the entry on the Brontës in The Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature. Rosengarten spoke at a recent Editors BC meeting about textual criticism and scholarly editing.

Textual editors study the creation of a literary work from manuscript to print and through its various editions. They also supplement the text with annotations, translations, and explanations of allusions or quotations that the reader might not be familiar with. “The goal is to present all the information a person needs to understand and interpret the work,” said Rosengarten. Continue reading “Herbert Rosengarten—The tyranny of the copytext: the trials and tribulations of textual editing (Editors BC meeting)”

Communication Convergence 2015

Building on last year’s inaugural event, Cheryl Stephens and Kate Harrison Whiteside put together a full day of sessions at Communication Convergence 2015, most of them looking at the ways technology has affected writing, publishing, and other means of communication.

Fawn Mulcahy—How has technology changed how we communicate?

Fawn Mulcahy has more than twenty years of public relations experience and has taught PR at Langara College and Simon Fraser University. At Communication Convergence she talked about how technology has changed the way we communicate and why we need to do our best to keep up.

Her advice about language and communication isn’t based on linguistics—“I’m not a linguist!” she disclaimed—but is informed by her interactions with her students and her seventeen-year-old step-daughter. Millennials will make up 44% of the workforce by 2020, and their communication is all digital. We have to get comfortable working in that space and learn the language of shortcuts like acronyms, emoticons, and emojis so that we can all work effectively with one another.

Technology is how we tell our stories, and we’re relying more and more on imagery, which can instantaneously and effortlessly communicate emotion and attitude. In presentations, images are key to avoiding “death by PowerPoint”: “If you have slides of black-and-white text in bullet points, you’ll lose them.”

More people have mobile phones than desktop computers, and youth have abandoned email in favour of communicating through their phones and on social media, which encourages all of us to keep our communications brief, simple, and short. That said, “we still need to honour communication,” said Mulcahy. Exclamation marks, all caps, and smiley faces have no place in a professional email, and we still have to differentiate between language used in texting and standard written English. People accustomed to writing for the 110 to 150 million blogs out there sometimes don’t understand why they can’t keep the same voice for everything they write.

When asked how technology has affected her teaching, Mulcahy admitted that it has shortened attention spans. “It’s tempting on computers to multitask,” she said. “An average person checks their phones 150 times a day—it’s a tic you can’t control.”

As an instructor, “You feel like a dancing bear—you have to entertain them to keep them listening and engaged.” In every classroom, “60 percent will think you’re an idiot, 20 percent will love you, and 20 percent are on the fence. You’re trying to win over that 20 percent.”

“Teach to one person,” Mulcahy advised. “Find your friend in the room. You can’t please everybody.”

How has technology changed relationships between writer, editor, and publisher? (panel discussion)

Editor, writer, and instructor Frances Peck moderated a discussion between Roberta Rich, author of The Harem Midwife and The Midwife of Venice and Paula Ayer, managing editor at Annick Press’s Vancouver office, about how technology has changed the publishing landscape.

“The biggest shift is that everything is electronic,” said Ayer. “Editors no longer work on paper proofs. And everything is expected faster; I think we’re offloading more onto freelancers because there’s less and less time to do things in house. Editors become surrogates for the publishing house.”

Rich, in contrast, has stuck to hard copy. “As you can deduce from all of this,” she joked, “I really hate change.” Her first novel was edited in three rounds, but her most recent book was edited in two. “Part of it was that I learned from the mistakes I made in my first two books,” she said, explaining that her first draft was probably a little more polished. “But I’m very fortunate to have been published in Canada first, because in the U.S., publishing houses don’t have that kind of patience—to do a third pass.” U.S. publishers, said Rich, don’t want a fixer-upper. They want a finished product. “In order to get a publisher to read it at all…it has to be almost perfect. You pay for your own editor.”

Rich recommends Booming Ground, part of UBC’s non-credit creative writing program, which offers editing and manuscript evaluations for up to 120 pages. “Send in 60 pages a month, and they send you feedback. It’s very economical. For $500 you get a lot of work and very detailed criticism.”

Ayer warned about unscrupulous businesses exploiting people who want to get published. To counter some of the volatility, Ayer said, Annick relies on a core group of freelancers who know the brand and understand what kinds of books they publish. But she’s constantly feeling pressure to get projects done more quickly: “We need sales materials sooner, so we need a clear idea of the book and an illustrator very early on.”

Peck said that editor Barbara Pulling has also mentioned the contraction in time for each project and the pressure to turn then around more quickly. She used to have six months to go back and forth with the author to develop ideas, and now she doesn’t have that luxury. “As a reader,” said Peck, “I pick up books that feel that they’ve been rushed through and that have substantive issues.”

“Has there been a change in readership?” Peck asked the Ayer and Rich. “Are needs, expectations, and attention spans changing?”

Rich said, “I have a pretty clear idea of my readership—they’re primarily female. Fiction readers are generally female, between ages twenty and sixty. Unfortunately, I’ve been seeing fewer young readers and writers at events like writers’ festivals and book clubs.”

“Our market,” said Ayer, “is mostly schools and libraries, so we’re affected more by budget cuts.” And Annick’s books have changed: “We use more sidebars, more illustrations. We’ve redone books in graphic novel style to make them more visual. It doesn’t mean they’re dumbed down. We’re giving readers short bursts of information. We want it to be interesting and engaging.”

“People used to read the first few pages at a bookstore,” said Rich. “Now we have to hook the reader in the first couple of paragraphs.”

“The title and cover have to get people’s attention right away,” said Ayer.

“Let’s turn our conversation back to relationships,” said Peck. “Has technology made relationships easier or harder? Do you get to have any face-to-face interaction?”

Rich said that she talks to her editor on the phone, but whenever she’s in Toronto, her editor takes her out for lunch. “I have an old-fashioned relationship with my editor,” she said.

Ayer said, “We work with people from everywhere—New Zealand, Poland, Japan. There’s usually no chance for face-to-face communication. If they’re in town, we try to make time for a face-to-face meeting. Freelancers are usually only dealt with via email, but some are close enough to be friends on Facebook.” It’s tempting to resist face-to-face meetings from a time-management point of view, she said, but they can create a stronger relationship.

“What trends do you see on the horizon?” asked Peck.

“Publishers will be less willing to take risks and will try to take only sure bets,” said Ayer. “Publishers have become slaves to numbers,” said Rich. “They’re very numbers driven.”

“Publishers used to have the patience to develop a writer, but when a small house develops writers, often they just go to bigger houses,” said Ayer.

Peck noted that some authors are now intentionally going to smaller publishers because they know they’ll get personal attention. Some decide to self-publish. “Will there be a resurgence of smaller presses, or will they change their roles?

“Self-publishing is good for people who have a built-in audience,” said Ayer. “There’s a bit of a mentality that publishers and record labels will mess with your creative vision. But often things get better with other people’s input.”

Blake Desaulniers—We are all publishers now in the era of internet distribution and multimedia platforms

Blake Desaulniers is a writer, photographer, videographer, and content marketing expert who worked in magazines in the 1980s and saw the transition from wax paste-up to fully digital production. Today, anyone can be a publisher—but if you choose to go that route, know what you’re getting into and have a clear idea of what you’re trying to do with your publication.

“What do we expect from our audience?” said Desaulniers. “We want them to buy our product, buy into our ideas. Set goals to understand the nature of engagement you expect from your audience. Often people don’t look that far. They’re good at packaging and distributing, but once it’s out there, they don’t think about it.”

You should also have a clear concept of your publication so that you can develop a set of keywords. “The internet is Google,” said Desaulniers. “If you want to get to your audience, you’ve got to be good with Google. Understand from the outset what your keywords are going to be. They should inform every aspect of your publishing venture. In a sense, it’s branding.”

Next, look at audience development, which may be the hardest part of all. Subscriptions are expensive and hard to manage. “Getting a subscriber audience is the most difficult aspect of the game, whether you’re an individual or a large-scale commercial publisher.”

So what can we do to develop an audience? “Build an audience using social media,” said Desaulniers. Use personas—representations, including goals and behaviours, of who you want or expect your audience to be—to build your communication efforts. Make sure you develop your personas based on real data, though, not just speculation.

Marketing automation (like the kind services like HubSpot can provide) requires a large budget—about $25,000 a year—to manage, but a good system can provide everything you need to automate distribution of your content, including newsletters, emails, and social media. Most importantly, it provides granular tracking of anything anyone does. “People used to say, ’50 percent of my advertising works—I just don’t know which 50 percent.’ This kind of tracking ends that uncertainty.”

“Audience engagement is more important than number of views,” said Desaulniers, and it’s important to have reliable metrics of engagement for your content. Knowing what your readers are actually using means “You’re customizing information, not wasting resources on things people aren’t interested in. Turn your users into your sales force.”

***

I’ll be writing up Cheryl Stephens’s session about the hidden intricacies of the modern reading audience in a separate post. To volunteer for or contribute to future Communication Convergence events, get in touch with Kate Whiteside.

Children’s book illustration & design

At the Vancouver ceremony for the 2014 Alcuin Awards, one of this year’s judges, Robin Mitchell Cranfield, moderated a lively panel discussion about the unique considerations in children’s picture book publishing. On the panel were:

Nugent began with a bit of background about children’s picture books—a timeless form that’s actually not all that old, emerging in the Victorian era as toy books meant as novelties to entertain children. According to Barbara Bader, a scholar in the field of children’s literature, “A picturebook is text, illustrations, total design; an item of manufacture and a commercial product; a social, cultural, historic document; and foremost, an experience for a child.” Nugent explained that whereas a storybook can be completely understood without images, a picture book’s narrative results from the interaction of words and pictures. Reading a picture book is not a linear process; children will flip the pages backward and forward as they try to make sense of the story.

A picture book’s words and images interact in three ways, said Nugent:

  • enhancement, where they complement one another and are not redundant—the words and pictures fill in different details;
  • alternation, where words and pictures take turns telling the story—seen most often when the author is also the illustrator; and
  • contradiction, where the words and pictures do not agree—a tension that creates humour or irony.

Nugent aspires to this contradictory symbiosis of words and images, because “teaching humour is an essential life skill.” Contradiction can reveal an unreliable or naive narrator and thus playfully empowers readers with knowledge that the narrator doesn’t have.

Children may be the readers of picture books, said Mitchell Cranfield, but who are the buyers? And how do they affect the way picture books are marketed? Gillingham replied that the interesting thing about a children’s book as a product is that there are gatekeepers: parents, teachers, and librarians choose which books to put into kids’ hands. The book must appeal to both the children and the people giving the book to the children.

The cover is the primary marketing tool, said Gillingham. “It can be a bit icky to think of the book as a product or to think about its cover as packaging, but we do want books to get into the hands of readers.” Children’s book authors and illustrators can expect their publisher’s marketing department to become involved in cover design because it is a sales tool. But unless the book can be tied to a holiday—say Mother’s Day or Father’s Day—the publisher typically won’t have the budget to do much marketing, and authors and illustrators are often expected to market their own books.

“How do we reach and represent the full community of children?” Mitchell Cranfield asked Flett. “Are there communities being underserved?”

“There are so many communities being underserved,” said Flett, including people who are LGBTQIA, people of colour, people with disabilities, and people from ethnic or cultural minorities. Published demographic data are hard to come by in Canada, but the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison releases statistics about children’s literature in the U.S., and it last reported that, in a sample of 5,000 books:

  • 180 were written or illustrated by African Americans,
  • 38 were by aboriginal authors or illustrators,
  • 112 were by authors or illustrators of Asia-Pacific ancestry, and
  • 66 were by Latinos.

For more representative diversity, said Flett, “we need more books written by the community member, not on behalf of that community member. We need these books in schools, homes, and communities.” Picture books that feature diversity are often what Flett considers “tourist books,” which may focus on holidays, for instance. There is much less about everyday life. Flett would like to see books that are now shelved in the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit section of the bookstore also in other sections, because “ultimately they are, like the majority of books, about humanity. And if we do not include diverse books, we’re implicitly exclusive.” She recalled an interaction she had with a young reader—a foster child—who was excited to discover that the main character of The Moccasins was also a foster child. Flett made the case for diverse books in all genres so that children with all sorts of backgrounds and experiences have characters they can relate to.

Mitchell Cranfield asked Morstad what children’s books mean to her. As a parent who loves art and design, Morstad replied, she’s interested in books that appeal to both children and adults—“books that tackle big subjects and that don’t underestimate children’s understanding of big subjects” like the emotions that come with death or sex or depression, for example. She enjoys books that are “deceptively simple but have philosophical or more complex components.”

“Kids have questions, and some are hard to answer,” Morstad said. “A book can be a great place for those conversations to happen.”

Mitchell Cranfield talked about her own work adapting a book for a TV show and remarked that when you’re reading with a child, “content gets presented to children in a filtered way.” Children can let you know when it’s too much for them. With a TV show, she had to be more careful about making sure the content would be “safe” to a broad group of viewers.

Flett likes the idea of empowering children in books. In Dolphin SOS (winner of the 2015 Christie Harris Illustrated Children’s Literature Prize), for example, the youth are themselves involved with the rescue in the story. Flett also mentioned Simon Ortiz’s The People Shall Continue, recently featured on the American Indians in Children’s Literature blog. Ortiz’s storytelling presents the history of Indigenous peoples, including treaties and reservations, in a matter-of-fact way, never once using the word “plight.” The book reflected how people simply tell each other stories: “These are the stories; these are the songs.”

Mitchell Cranfield asked Gillingham how changes in production have changed book illustration, design, and content. “What does the future of children’s book design look like?”

Gillingham said that digital art in children’s books “used to look a lot more digital.”

“I appreciate illustrators who continue to use their hands but use digital tools to make the process of making a book easier,” she said. “I love when there’s still evidence of the hand.”

Gillingham recalled when, not that long ago, illustrators had to send, nervously, their original artwork via courier, when there was always a possibility of loss or damage. “I love that we don’t have to worry about those things now,” she said.

As for the future of children’s book design, “I see it getting less compartmentalized,” she said. Traditionally, authors and illustrators were kept separate, but “I see that breaking down. Authors and illustrators are finding each other.”

“I see illustrators becoming more design savvy,” she added, speculating that the change might be tool driven, as more illustrators work in the digital realm. They’re more conscientious about page composition and the interaction between type and illustrations.

Nugent agreed that the process is much more collaborative. She said that she felt editorial pressure to create a sleepy-time ending to one of her books, When Cats Go Wrong. “With cuts to libraries and schools,” she said, book publishers have refocused their marketing toward parents, and in North America, “a picture book is used to separate parent from child at the end of the day”—a function that books in other countries don’t have to have.

Nugent had to rework the last spread of her book, which had depicted an active scene, to create a more calm ending. She admits to resenting the request at first but came to realize that inspiration was bottomless: she could find it regardless of the constraints she faced. “People don’t like to think about marketing considerations, but we have to respect that people are putting money into producing the book.” she said. She ended by encouraging everyone to check out the IBBY Silent Books Exhibit featuring wordless picture books from around the world on at the Italian Cultural Centre until October 22.

Vanessa Ricci-Thode—Alternatives to editing: working on a self-publisher’s budget (Editing Goes Global, 2015)

What can you do for self-publishing authors who don’t have much to spend? Author and editor Vanessa Ricci-Thode shared some the strategies she’s used to help authors who can’t afford editing. Although she focused on fiction, many of her tips will apply to nonfiction projects as well.

Do a manuscript evaluation

For a flat fee, Ricci-Thode will evaluate a manuscript up to 100,000 words and provide the author with a topic-by-topic report outlining the main changes that the author should make to

  • premise
  • plot
  • structure
  • characterization
  • dialogue
  • setting
  • point of view
  • voice
  • mood or tone

She may also comment on other features, such as the story’s symbolism, humour, or reading level. Although she won’t edit the manuscript—and hence won’t mark it up—she will insert comment bubbles in the document so that authors can see examples of the kinds of problems they might  consider fixing. Ricci-Thodes suggests using a “triage editing” mindset and tackling the biggest problems first.

To learn how write a constructive evaluation, Ricchi-Thodes suggests the seminar on fiction editing offered by EAC’s Toronto Branch or Ryerson University’s fiction-editing class.

Suggest crowdfunding

If an author doesn’t have enough of their own money for editing, they could try raising enough money through crowdfunding platforms, including

Many of these platforms allow authors to connect with their readers by offering rewards for their sponsorship.

Suggest low-cost editing options (with a caveat)

If an author is desperate for editing, you could point them to low-cost editing options on freelancing sites such as Elance or even Fiverr. However, because many people claiming to be editors compete internationally for freelance contracts, these sites can be exploitative. Further, the quality of the editing will be a crapshoot.

Whatever you do, said Ricci-Thodes, don’t let an author talk you down. Don’t sell yourself—or your colleagues—short. You may be willing to reduce your rate to work on a particularly exciting project, but make sure your client knows the full value of the services you’re giving them.

Point authors to resources on writing and self-editing

For authors that need a lot of work, recommend books or websites that will help them hone their writing skills. During the session Ricci-Thodes listed the resources she recommends (her commentary in parentheses):

On craft

On style and grammar

Websites

Audience members chimed in with some of their own suggestions (in no particular order):

Also, encourage authors to join a critique group or writing circle that has experienced writers.

Offer mentoring or “mini-evaluation” sessions

Ricci-Thodes offers face-to-face meetings in which she can offer an author tips based on a short writing sample and answer specific editorial questions. She lets the clients set the agenda for the meetings, for which she charges hourly.

***

For more editor-recommended, editing-related resources, check out my blog post from our September 2014 EAC-BC meeting: Hitting the books: Professional development tips.